- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2015

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) - The coaching staff has been overhauled, the roster upgraded and the facilities modernized.

Now the Oakland Raiders get the chance to turn those improvements into a better record on the field.

Oakland’s veterans began reporting back to the team facility on Monday for the official start of the offseason program. Like all teams that changed coaches this offseason, the Raiders will get a two-week head start for new coach Jack Del Rio to start implementing his plans for improving a team that has gone 12 straight seasons without a winning record or playoff berth.

“I’m fired up,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “I think that we’ve done a great job. Our whole locker room feels that way. Our whole locker room felt going into the offseason, free agency and the draft, that we’re close. We became a team at the end and once we started playing like a team, we saw what we could do and then we saw how many games we lost that were so close when we weren’t a team.”

Del Rio was hired in January to replace interim coach Tony Sparano, who was in charge for 12 games after the in-season firing of Dennis Allen. Del Rio has brought in an almost entirely new staff, including offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., and upgraded the team’s weight room and strength program.

The staff includes eight former NFL players with more than 100 years of playing experience. Those former players have brought new energy to the team, with offensive players excited to run Musgrave’s up-tempo system and defenders looking forward to soaking up Norton’s contagious energy.

“You can sense it as a player that he’s excited and he is a competitor,” linebacker Khalil Mack said. “You almost can feel that intensity that you can feel on the defense when you’re out there and it’s fourth down and you have a guy out there like that. It can only help that you have a coach as well that has been there and played.”

Carr and Mack were two of the lone bright spots as rookies last season when the Raiders won just three games. Carr started all 16 games and showed signs he could stabilize the revolving door that has existed at quarterback in Oakland since Rich Gannon left more than a decade ago.

Mack was one of the top outside linebackers in the game as a rookie, dominating against the run and generating consistent pressure on quarterbacks.

In less than a year, they have gone from unproven rookies to core players.

“When I came in, out of respect I can’t go out and just be the alpha male, dominant leader, because it really wasn’t my team yet,” said Carr, who was expected to back up Matt Schaub last season. “I was going to come in and be myself, but I couldn’t assert my leadership role and all that. Now, it’s really nice and it’s going to make it a lot easier to go out and be myself. I don’t have to come in and hold back a little bit.”

General manager Reggie McKenzie has added several projected new starters in free agency, most notably linebacker Curtis Lofton, defensive tackle Dan Williams, safety Nate Allen and center Rodney Hudson, as well as running backs Trent Richardson and Roy Helu, former Super Bowl MVP linebacker Malcolm Smith and blocking tight end Lee Smith.

Two holes that have not been filled have been at receiver and edge rusher. Those additions could wait until the draft when the Raiders have the fourth overall pick and top receiving prospects Amari Cooper and Kevin White could be available.

“I get the question a lot throughout town, ‘Cooper or White?’” Carr said. “My answer is, the best player available. I don’t mind who it is. Again, I want whoever we pick to come in here and help us win Super Bowls. If we take a receiver, great. He’s going to know my expectations. If we don’t’ take a receiver, that guy is going to know my expectations. I don’t care who it is.”

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Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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